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Last Updated: Monday, 6 February 2006, 09:38 GMT
The battle for the 'King of Bling'
Photocall at the camp

Jamie Godsafe, 37, of Southend, wrote to the BBC News website about a road protest site in his town called Camp Bling.

It was set up by campaigners angry at plans to widen a road over the burial site of a Saxon king dubbed the King of Bling.

We sent our reporter Jenny Matthews to investigate. If you have any other story ideas - send them to the BBC using the form at the bottom of the page.


A suburban area of an Essex seaside resort in 2006 seems neither the time nor the place for an anti-road protest camp - a phenomenon many associate with the early 1990s, and Newbury and Twyford Down.

But on a tiny scrap of land in Southend, squashed between a busy main road and a railway line, a patch of colourful tents, wooden treehouses and protest banners marks Camp Bling - England's only current anti-road protest site.

Local resident Ant Bailey, 39, co-founded the camp five months ago with local environmental campaigner Shaun Qureshi.

The Camp Bling protest site battling the F5 Priory Crescent road-widening scheme

Several different things inspired him to set it up, he said, including "the trees, the park, the burial site" he thinks are at risk from Southend Borough Council's 25m Priory Crescent road-widening scheme.

"We're just totally against it. People are putting everything into this, some people are leaving their jobs, some people are leaving their homes, living here, putting their life into it, and it's what we feel is the right thing to do."

The council, on the other hand, says the road is needed to tackle terrible congestion, and that efforts have been made to reduce the environmental impact.

They also point out that the road has been through an exhaustive planning process - including a full public inquiry in 2004 and central government agreement - and that it has been democratically decided.

'Incredible find'

This is not convincing the protesters, however.

A burial chamber of a Saxon king, dubbed the Prince of Prittlewell, or the King of Bling, after the number of grave goods he was buried with, was found in 2003 - ironically, during excavation work in preparation for the road-widening scheme.

Anthony Bailey
Anthony Bailey believes it is right to stand up for what you believe in

Marion Pearce, a local historian who does not live at the camp, but visits it as a supporter, says: "It's been an incredible find, just incredible.

"It's a great sacred site and it should be venerated. We are an ancient country and an ancient people, and this site should have a proper veneration."

She also believes more burial sites could be found in the area.

"We have only scratched the surface... Haven't we got a responsibility to our future generations?"

Water brought in

Mr Bailey, who used to be employed as a sheet metal worker, says about 15 people now sleep at the camp, with about 25-30 people there in the daytime.

The protesters have been very active in the last five months - building dwellings and communal areas in the camp, hosting visitors including a group of scouts, and planning a "proper" visitors centre to teach people all about the king.

The council says they have not applied for planning permission for any of their makeshift buildings, but it is content to "keep an eye on the situation" for now.

THE 'KING OF BLING'
Grave
Burial site found in 2003 during road preparation work
It was 12ft wide, 5ft high and wood-lined
Believed to be burial site of a 7th Century Saxon king, possibly Sigeberht or Sabert
Body had dissolved but goods included flagon, bowl, folding stool and gold-foil crosses
These goods now in the Museum of London
Road scheme has cleared all planning hurdles and is now in final funding stages

Supporters donate water, food and cash - and local people offer them hot baths and showers, says Mr Bailey.

He says most at the camp are local residents, but there are also activists from elsewhere, including 22-year-old Christiana Tugwell, who hit headlines in 1999 when at age 15 she began a protest in nearby Hockley.

Ms Tugwell has been at the site for four months along with 16-month-old son Aaron and partner Owen. She says the camp was set up as a last resort after protesters became "disillusioned with the political process".

"You can tick the box in a survey and sign as many petitions as you like, but nothing seems to make a palpable difference," she says.

"But at least here you feel you are doing something."

But are they right to be there?

The road plan is now at an extremely advanced stage.

It was originally mooted about six years ago and has cleared all planning hurdles, including the public inquiry in 2004. Now all that remains is for central government to decide whether to release the funds need for it - a decision widely expected some time in the spring.

King of Bling
The "king of bling" burial site is not obvious to the casual passer-by

The council says it accepts that "people who continue to take a different view will want to express their feelings". But it says the road is important to Southend, that opposing views have already been taken into consideration, and that a "democratic decision" has been made to widen the road.

But whether right or wrong, will the protesters change anything?

The council says it does intend to implement the scheme if the government provides the funding it needs.

Mr Bailey hopes the government might baulk at the amount required, and refuse to release the funds. But otherwise, protesters are gearing up for a "lengthy and quite costly" eviction.

"We've got different defences to stay here as long as possible and defend the site," he said.

Traffic on Priory Crescent
The council says the road is essential for reducing congestion
But what about the money which the taxpayer will presumably have to stump up, if it comes to an eviction battle? Are the protesters simply wasting public money, after the democratic process has been gone through?

Mr Bailey acknowledges that not everyone agrees with them, but says: "It's about standing up for what you believe in.

"If you're into the environment, and you believe parks, and green spaces, and trees and wildlife should be protected, then it's a passion."

Camp Bling


Do you have any pictures that could make a story? If so, you can send them to yourpics@bbc.co.uk or MMS them to 07725 100 100


Read a selection of your comments below.

We live close to Camp Bling and have lived in the area all our lives. That stretch of road by the Priory Park only gets slightly congested when people drive to work and return home and when Mums drive their kids to school. At all other times there is no problem. The amount of money the council propose to spend to save a few minutes a day on a bottleneck that will only get moved a few yards further along, is preposterous.
Sue Woollard and Gary Hammond, Westcliff-on-Sea

Why shouldn't we celebrate our rich history? As a country fast becoming a theme park as we now produce little (our mines abandoned, our steel works closing down)we will need sites like these. Look to build a new road away from this site.
Karen, Adhton-under-Lyne, Lancs

Surely the protesters are wrong. The local council has followed all the correct paths, even a public enquiry, the protesters should pack up and go elsewhere, real Southenders dont want them here.
Arthur Fowler, Southend Essex

Having followed the campaign to resist this road plan from the very beginning, I have nothing but admiration for the residents of Camp Bling. They are putting their lives into their beliefs in a manner which most of us are unwilling to do. In contrast, I have nothing but contempt for our elected councillors in Southend-on-Sea who carried out a seriously flawed 'consultation' and refused to take into account the views of 20000+ residents who signed a petition against this development. They have consistently ignored the electorate and are now, it seems, not only hellbent on destroying the park environment but also the seafront, the latter by way of a Supercasino and residential development proposed for the beach itself! Unfortunately, the residents of the town have to some degree only themselves to blame. They continue to re-elect these same councillors even though they oppose the scheme by dint of the fact that they cannot be bothered to vote.
Keith Richardson, Southend-on-Sea

I think that the archaeologists should research the site and take what evidence and information as they can from it and then cover it over for future generations to rediscover and do the same. Mr Hairy and his bunch of layabouts should get a life and, preferably, a job.
Rob Hayhurst, London, England

Living in Southend I often drive past the 'Camp Bling' as the road is one of the only ways out of Southend. Most of the time I crawl past it in my car as there are terrible traffic problems - hence the need for the new road. This gives me a chance to read the signs and one always stands out. It asks for respect and consideration because there are children on site. I think the protesters should have more consideration for their children and not make them live there. In the long run I do not believe that their protests will make any difference to whether the road is built.
Nicky, Southend, Essex

Interesting comment regarding believing in parks and green space. Within a few yards are:- A large public park. A Municipal Golf Course. A Cricket Pitch. Several Football pitches. Southend United Football Club's training ground. All GREEN ! A small square of ground crammed between a road that currently always has a trafic jam on it and the railway line cannot be regarded as an important "green space". In fact without the road widening I would imagine that he continuing environmental impact would outweigh the good that the "Green Space" is providing.
James, Southend on Sea, Essex

It is fantastic that people dedicate their lives to protecting our heritage and the natural environment. Well done!
sean, clapham, london

Sites such as this Saxon Burial Site need to be protected, well done to Anthony Bailey and his co-campaigners. These sites are England's heritage. Developers and authorities leave them alone!!!
S HORNE, SURREY

It is sickening when blinkered authorities misuse power to destroy the landscape, sacred sites or fragile wildlife habitats. We have a similar situation in Southport wherein miles of countryside are being turned into concrete car parks and massive business sheds for hollow profits. Sadly, money talks louder than care for the eco system and the 'grey-suits' in sterile office blocks making big decisions frequently get their way. It's a disgrace and councils, politicians, etc behind these odious land-grabbing schemes are cold-hearted to the bone!
pat, Southport, Lancs

I think that people should be aware that as the site has already been subject to an archaeological excavation it's highly likely that there isn't actually a 'tomb' left to save- simply a filled-in hole where a grave once was. Also the fact that the individual was a 'king' doesn't make the site any more sacred than the many hundreds of ancient graves that are discovered each year as a result of roadworks and other development.
J, Southampton, UK

Here we go again, a gang of scruffy hippies with nothing better to do, just like Newbury a few years back. Swampy rides again!
paul, Teesside

I wonder if these people that are camped at the site are on unemployment benefits. If so the taxpayer is paying them to protest instead of look for work, as well as paying for the expensive appeals process, and eventual eviction of these protesters. If the goods from the burial site have been removed to the London Museum, what is there to protect, an empty site.
Mrs. K.King, Norfolk

Keep up the good work Mr Bailey and friends, its good to see there are still people out there protecting our heritage
Steve, Chester

On the B3082 outside the town of Fowey in Cornwall, there is the tombstone of Drustanus, Prince of Dumnonia and son of King Marcus Cunomorus. He died in the 550CE. His tombstone has been moved several times to make way for roads and now no one knows where his bones lie. Where is the respect in that. This guy was Royalty.
Craig Robinson, Gloucester

The more road-widening schemes, the more traffic, the more need for road-widening schemes. Eventually, there will be nothing but roads and nowhere worth going. Save the old sacred sites. Encourage environmental conservation which this government promised to do, and has let us down. Support the protesters!
Joy Kenward, Weston-super-Mare, Somerset

Wider roads simply means more traffic and congestion; just look at what happened to Newbury after the bypass, minimal impact. The destruction of heritage sites is simply a quick fix solution employed by councillors who will be looking at accounts in one department rather the cultural needs of the area. Surely a groundbreaking traffic planning and public transport system would make Southend a place of envy rather than revulsion. Well done Camp Bling.
Dave Newbury, Leicester

You can build a road anywhere, but you cannot find a historical site anywhere. You can be creative with building work - you can divert a road or you can use it less by cycling or using public transport. But you cannot be creative with the past. It is perfectly possible to progress and to preserve our heritage at the same time.
Charles Cummins, Lisbon, Portugal.

A message to the Camp Bling squatters....get a haircut, get a wash and get a job!
Mike, Southend

Why does the only solution to congestion seem to be widening the roads? Don't councils realise that when we make our dustbins bigger, they fill up with rubbish just the same! I have every respect for these protestors. Our heritage and our countryside are more important.
Sarah, Cheltenham

All the best to the demonstrators, would love to come and support next time I'am back home. Some strange comments on here "lets build a road we can all be proud of" ? "History is the past" DUH!!! Just some sad examples of short-sighted selfishness I'm afraid, very common human condition. In the future if these peoples grandchildren asks them about Southend's Saxon King and all they can do is point to a stretch of road I hope they can feel proud of their support for this ill-judged scheme.
Steve, Northampton

I regularly use this stretch of road, I'm glad that these people are there. The so-called improvement stretch of proposed dual carriageway will make no difference, it will only make the wait at the roundabout at Sutton Road (the dualled part already in place east of the railway line)longer. The 'improvements' are a complete waste of money.
Meryl, Great Wakering, Essex

I have nothing but respect for these guys man. I'm deep deep into all the preservation of places and to let this be ruined is disgusting but at the end of the day, and the end of most protests, the police force will come in and wash you out. Put up a fight Camp Bling
Chris Webster, Walsall

Whats the point in saving an ancient burial site. You can't see any thing unless you dig up the residence. What a waste of resources clearing these protesters off the site.I am not the least bit interested what happened so many years ago,surely its about whats happening today and the future.May be the protest is against the road father than saving the burial grounds H G Perry
H G Perry, GT Yarmouth England

I fully sympathise with the protestors, it really is time that we stopped destroying our heritage for the great God road building and economy. Had Southend and Rayleigh not been over built we would not have the traffic jams that now exist. Especially as the companies that once were in the viscinity of the Park have now either relocated or just don't exist anymore. Good Luck to the Protestors and I wish them luck, hopefully the grant will never come through. Why don't Southend Council do something about improving the Cliffs from further collapse? Money would be well spent there not destroying what little green belt we still have. It would appear that when a spot of green appears there mushrooms houses or supermarkets leading to over congested roads it has to stop and now would be a good time. Good Luck guys.
Patricia Putt, Rayleigh, Essex

As an ex-pat Southender, I have watched this story for a few years. This road wideniing will be little short of legalised vandalism, taking away part of the park which was given to the people of Southend in perpetuity. It will just give over extra road space for drivers to sit on while they wait at the hold up at Cuckoo Corner. When drivers find it has saved them a precious minute or two, it will be too late.
Ian Murphy, Portishead, Bristol

Leave the tomb alone. Surely planners can move the road a few feet - it doesn't have to be exactly to plan; is anything? My main objection is that the site of a king's burial will be desecrated - how would the planners feel if it were their ancestors' grave which was being buried under tons of concrete and tarmac??
William Kettle, Boston, Lincolnshire

This scheme is a waste of money as the traffic will just be held up at the traffic lights at the next junction or the roundabout in the other direction. Many beautiful old trees will be destroyed and for what? a few minutes off the journey if you're lucky!
Diane Ford, Hockley, Essex

This site should be protected. Just because it does not have the 'tourist' value and beauty of Stonehenge, or the religious importance of Fountains Abbey, or the 'uniqueness' of Skara Brae does not make it any less important. History is important because it is what made us what we are as a nation. How would we like it if in a hundred years somebody knocked through your cemetery for a road that will be full and blocked up by traffic ten years later!
Mark, Harrogate

As someone has already said, some years ago, Priory Park was left to the people of Southend by R A Jones, a respected local businessman to be enjoyed by all. Regarding the public enquiry, in 2004, loads of people that I spoke to at the time, didn't even KNOW that there was a public enquiry (me for one)and apparently (although this is hearsay) a lot of people who did go, didn't even get a chance to voice their views. The traffic is horrendous at the Cuckoo Corner roundabout, but it has always been the same. If the council were to put traffic lights at the roundabout, as they have done in other congested areas, that would go a long way to improving things.
Jill Stone, Prittlewell, Southend on Sea, Essex

These people are hypocrites. How many actually live in the area. Immediately local residents have an interest in the value of their property and therefore do not want a major road blighting this. As for eco friendly I noticed the other day that the protesters had an old van, probably as about as eco friendly as a 40 year old Russian Nuclear Power Plant, totally blocking the pavement causing people to step in to a very busy road. These self serving drones should get a job a contribute to society
John Smith, Southend Essex

The council are being disingenuous by not revealing that the new scheme will only regularise the traffic flow, not speed it up. A proposed relief road north, near Rochford is the better option. The expected cost of the current scheme is 27,000,000 for 800 yards!and the bridge would be 3 metres higher than the existing, ruin the park and concrete over Southend's equivalent of Stonehenge- madness
Clive Evers, Shoeburyness

These sorts of protests could go on all over the South East. We are going to need more & more roads as the government has has the bright idea of building even more homes in this already overcrowded area. I use this road quite frequently & there are plenty of alternative routes, in my opinion the road doesn't need to be widened. I think the problem though lies not with the space of the road but public transport. From where I live to get to that part of southend is impossible without a car. If public transport is invested in properly & vastly improved then perhaps the number of cars on the road would be reduced.
Lisa Bobbett, southend, essex

Why is it that some people feel that democracy only applies as long as the decision goes their way? This issue has gone through an exhaustive democratic process and the outcome was that the majority of local residents support the new road scheme. It is not acceptable that, having lost the debate, a disenchanted minority should then decide to take illegal and inappropriate action in an attempt to subvert the democratic process. This is not some heroic fight on behalf of 'the people' against 'faceless bureaucrats'. Be under no illusion, the residents of Southend want and fully support the new development as an acceptable compromise solution to a difficult but significant problem. In reality, there are many 'green' arguments for this new development and the historic site issue is no longer relevant. As is always the case, it will be the local residents and taxpayers who pick-up the costs of clearing these people and their waste from the site when the development commences. It's so easy to take action when you don't have any responsibility for the consequences.
Kevin B, Southend-on-Sea, UK

I have lived in Southend all my life and I agree with the proposals that the council have put forward. Southend is becoming a more populated area, and there are more cars on the road, which justifies the need for a new road. The area itself gets very busy and normally brings traffic to a standstill. Surely the more cars sitting there waiting to go will increase pollution, instead of a hopefully free-flowing road. To be honest I am not bothered about a Saxon King, history is in the past, and if they are that bothered about it then it should all be dug up. They are just using it as an excused to make a nuisance of themselves, they will do the same again when Southend United come to build there new stadium on a nearby plot of land.
Steven, Southend-on-sea, Essex

Sadly the whole scheme is ill thought out and this just adds to the woes. Using the roads that surround the park area as a huge roundabout as they do in London would solve nearly all the problems. Not only would this be cheaper but it would not disturb the Saxon site. As with so much else that Southend Council does, another lame brain idea that cost's too much.
Terry W, Southend

The past is history. If there was anything significant to preserve I would back this protest. The facts are that the artefacts have been removed for conservation and the former occupant has been organically recycled as nature intended. Let's do something to benefit the living and build a good road that we can be proud of. That will no doubt release several camp followers to practice their benefit application skills.
Ron Leake, Christchurch, England

I wish these protesters all the best and hope that this time a little of our green and pleasant land is not destroyed just so people can fill another bit of concrete up with cars all day. So what if you have to leave ten minutes earlier. People forget that there are more important things than mindlessly destroying and polluting the world just because you want to stay in bed for an extra ten minutes.
Kevin, ex pat in Vienna, Austria

I regularly use this section of road and am always held up on it and understand the need to do something about this. However there must be someway of avoiding this sensitive section, i.e. cutting through the industrial estate and connecting to the road further up, this would be a shorter route and may cause less disruption to local residents.
Roy Brown, Hullbridge, Essex

The site should be protected, it is of national importance. More roads always equal more car journeys. We're already covering the countryside with concrete at a horrendous rate and sitting in cars smothering everything with greenhouse gasses. I hope Mr Bailey and his fellow protestors are successful, if we all try to make a positive change as he is doing, the voice of reason will be heard.
Sarah Shaw-Maslin, Stroud, Gloucestershire

It is fantastic that people dedicate their lives to protecting our heritage and the natural environment. Well done!
Sean, Clapham, London

Yet another case of profit over heritage. Saxon sites aren't sexy: tourists don't flock to see post holes like they do to see a roman villa. But where the Romans are well documented and funded, the Saxons remain largely a mystery, and to destroy one of the few sites that has yielded spectacular finds is tantamount to vandalism.
Shevaun, London

The road is a much needed improvement to solve major congestion which affects 1,000's of people every day. I'm sure Anthony Bailey would feel different if he was one of the people who got caught up in the traffic jams every single day!
Stephen, Southend

Priory Park, a beautiful oasis of peace and tranquillity, was left to the people of Southend to enjoy and they have done for generations. The lakes, flower beds and well established trees have been enjoyed by everyone and should be left alone - not concreted over to save a few minutes car journey a day. I find it very difficult to believe the council have acted "democratically" over this as so many people are against the scheme. Leave the park alone!
Sue Woollard , Westcliff-on-Sea, England.

As a Southend resident I have nothing but admiration for these people. They are not only standing up for what so many think is right by trying to block the erosion of our remaining green spaces but are doing their utmost to preserve a part of the town's ancient heritage for future generations. Long live Camp Bling.
Christopher Silk, Southend. Essex, UK




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